The Hebrew Background of the New Testament

Course Description

When you read the New Testament, do you ever feel like you aren’t really seeing the whole picture? To truly understand, we need to forgo the modern reading of the New Testament and look back at the historical, cultural and archeological view of Jerusalem in the 1st century.

This course will take you on an eye-opening journey, where we reexamine the connection between Jesus’ interpretations of the Torah and various Rabbinical views. We focus on the complex personality of the Apostle Paul, his Jewish roots and orthodox views, which then shaped a new Christian vision.

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Syllabus Summary

  1. Introduction: Traditional Paradigms Reconsidered

    We read the Bible through the lens of received traditions – interpretations that have come down to us through the centuries. Most of these interpretations suppose that there was a “Christianity” separate and distinct from “Judaism” immediately after the lifetime of Jesus. Some of these interpretations even place this separation during Jesus’ ministry. In this lesson, we will discover how the “Jesus movement” or “Jesus sect” remained a Jewish group for decades after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple.

  2. Dead Sea Scrolls and New Testament Studies

    This lesson will explore how the Dead Sea Scrolls can be useful for understanding ideas current within the culture in which the New Testament was formed.

  3. Samarians and Samaritans: Rethinking the Samaritan Woman

    This lesson will take a deeper look at the character of the Samaritan Woman in John 4, in the context of Samaritan identity, the view of Judeans and Samaritans toward one another in the first century CE, and the essence of the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan Woman as a focus on the correct place of worship.

  4. John, Jews, and Judaism: Rethinking the Story of Lazarus

    This lesson will re-examine the portrayal of “the Jews” in the Gospel of John. “Jews” is a most unfortunate translation of the Greek word “Ioudaioi,” which really means “Judeans.” In this lesson, we will see how the gospel’s writer uses the term “Ioudaioi” to portray a sub-group of Jerusalem temple leaders and residents of Judea – not as a religious conflict between “Jews” and “Christians.”

  5. Josephus Flavius and New Testament Studies

    This lesson will look at the writings of Jewish historian Josephus Flavius and how those writings can help to fill in some of the gaps in our understanding of the historical context of the New Testament.

  6. Jewish Movements According to Josephus

    Josephus’ writings are instrumental in our understanding of various Jewish sects in the first century CE, namely the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Zealots, and the Essenes. We read about all but one of these, the Essenes, in the Gospels. This lesson will examine the characteristics of each of these sects for a greater understanding of each one’s place in the New Testament.

  7. Jewish Logos Theology and Two Powers in Heaven

    Jewish ideas of Logos, “the Word,” existed even before the lifetime of Jesus and informed the Jesus movement’s understanding of Jesus as the “Word made flesh,” especially as we read in John 1. In this lesson, we will look at the development and concepts behind Jewish ideas of Logos, which include the belief in some Jewish circles that there was a second divine being in heaven that shared God’s name and divinity, yet was at the same time distinct from God the Father.

  8. Jews and Hellenism: Rethinking the Bethesda Healing

    Hellenism, a word that essentially means “Greek-ification,” was a major influence upon Jewish thought in the first century CE. Jerusalem was no exception, as many Greek and Roman influences had filtered into the city. We will look at a few of these, including the possibility that the Bethesda pool, featured as a place of one of Jesus’ healings in Jn. 5, may have been a center of pagan healing known as an asclepeion, dedicated to the god of healing, Asclepius. Far from “paganizing” the Gospel, this would point to Jesus’ seeking out of lost Israelites.

  9. Early Jewish Followers of Jesus and Torah

    This lesson will examine what the New Testament itself has to say about Torah. What was Jesus’ own attitude towards Torah? How did Jesus’ disciples view Torah? Contrary to centuries of received tradition that interpret the New Testament as heralding the end of Torah, we will find that Jesus, the disciples, and Apostle Paul in fact honored, practiced, and strengthened Torah.

  10. Jesus Among the Rabbis: Exploring Shared Ideas

    Jesus may accurately be seen as standing in the tradition of the Jewish sages, concerned with correct interpretation of Torah. This lesson will demonstrate how Jesus may be considered as a first-century rabbi.

  11. The Jewishness of All Four Gospels

    Which Gospel is the “most Jewish?” Which is the “least Jewish?” We often hear that Matthew is the “most” and John the “least;” but how accurate is this? In this lesson, we will consider the factors of each Gospel that might identify them as Jewish, or disqualify them from being Jewish and place them more in a Gentile context. We will also look at the “disqualifiers” and see if they truly indicate a non-Jewish provenance and/or intended audience for each Gospel.

  12. Hebraisms in the New Testament

    “Hebraisms,” characteristics of the Hebrew language appearing in the Greek texts of the New Testament, help us to place those texts in a solidly Jewish origin. We will look at some Hebraisms throughout the New Testament and explore what their presence means for our understanding of these parts of the Scriptures.

  13. New Testament Dejudiazed: Illusion or Reality?

    The process of stripping the “Jewishness” of the New Testament texts and making them sound more “Christian” has been going on for centuries, and affects the way in which we read and understand the texts. In this lesson, we will look at some aspects of the New Testament that have been “de-Judaized” in this way, and delve into the original language to re-discover the Jewishness of the texts.

  14. Rabbinic Judaism: History, Texts, Traditions

    Many of the key ideas and concepts of Rabbinic Judaism, that is, Judaism as it developed after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE, existed in earlier periods. The first century CE reflects the beginning stages of this development. We will study this formative stage and discover how understanding the early development of Torah interpretation informs what we read of Jesus in the New Testament.

  15. Hillel, Shammai, and the Teachings of Jesus

    Building on the last lesson on Rabbinic Judaism, this lesson will explore some key teachings of the two famous sages Hillel and Shammai, and how their Torah interpretation methods and the schools of thought that they established lingered into the New Testament period to have significance for Jesus’ debates with opponents.

  16. Merkavah Mysticism: Anomalies in Rabbinic Judaism.

    Merkavah, or “chariot,” mysticism was popular in some Jewish circles before and during the lifetime of Jesus. We read examples of this in Ezekiel and Daniel, as well as in non-biblical Jewish texts. This phenomenon within Judaism continues the “Two Powers in Heaven” theme and provides some context as a background in which beliefs of Jesus as divine developed.

  17. Ruth and Na’aman: Two Paths to Israel’s God

    The early Jesus movement was embroiled in a heavy debate about Gentiles seeking to be baptized and enter covenant relationship with God through Israel’s Messiah: “What do we do with these Gentiles? How do we admit them? Do we demand that they fully convert to Judaism, or de we allow them to come in as Gentiles, without changing their national/ethnic status?” This lesson will explore that debate in terms of the two possibilities of full conversion or God-fearer status, the former represented by the biblical Ruth, the latter by the Aramean captain Naaman in 2 Kings 5. We will see which path the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 decided to require of the Gentiles.

  18. John’s Revelation: A Jewish Apocalypse

    We will look at the Book of Revelation as a decidedly Jewish work, fitting the genre of apocalyptic literature.

  19. Jews, Pagans, and gods: Understanding Ancient Monotheism

    This lesson will examine the “theism” prevalent in antiquity: henotheism, the concept that all gods exist but only one is to be worshipped. We will look at evidence for this belief within Israel in the Scriptures, examine the ancient belief that all gods formed family relationships and covenants with people-groups, and explore Apostle Paul’s statements on pagan deities and the approach that Gentiles-in-Christ must take to them.

  20. Israel’s Holy Days: Insights in the Jewish Calendar

    This exploration of Israel’s sacred calendar will apply the feasts and fasts to the New Testament mention of these observations, applied to Jesus’ life in the Gospels and spoken of as a matter of freedom for Jews- and Gentiles-in-Christ by Apostle Paul. We will also see how these feasts and fasts have been obscured and discouraged as Christianity developed over the centuries.

  21. Israel in the Roman World

    This lesson will examine pagan Roman attitudes toward Jews and Judaism, the place of Judaism within the wider Roman world, and the role of status in Roman society and in the Jesus-movement.

  22. Jewish Gospel in Roman Cities

    This lesson will explore how the Gospel, as a way of being Jewish, was spread throughout the Roman Empire by the apostles. How was the Gospel received in a culture that viewed conversion from Roman paganism to a Jewish sect as a national and ethnic betrayal?

  23. Eating with Gentiles: Tensions Over Defilement

    This lesson will explore table-fellowship between Jews and Gentiles in antiquity, how this was handled in the Jesus-movement, and what the requirements were for Gentiles-in-Christ.

  24. Rediscovering Jewish Paul in New Testament

    In this lesson, we will see Apostle Paul as a first-century apocalyptic Jew. Far from converting from Judaism to a Christianity that didn’t exist yet, Saul/Paul never ceased to be Jewish but came to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was Israel’s Messiah, moving from one way of being Jewish to another.

  25. Paul’s Shema and the Nations

    This lesson will examine how the Shema, the great prayer of Israel – “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone!” – informed Apostle Paul’s theology and his view of how the Gentiles should be brought into the Jesus-movement.

  26. Romans and Galatians in Context

    This lesson focuses on the vital importance of reading and understanding the letters to Romans and Galatians in the context of the audience to whom each letter was addressed. In each case, Apostle Paul was writing to a community facing its own particular problems and concerns. We will look at these letters individually in an effort to discern what each letter is saying to it intended audience and the relationship of Gentiles to Jews in the Roman and Galatian congregations.

  27. The Stigma of Circumcision

    This lesson will look at the pagan and Jewish views on circumcision and further explore the controversy within the Jesus-movement regarding whether or not to demand circumcision of Gentiles-in-Christ. We will place the circumcision debate within the context of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians and the apostle’s strongly-worded forbidding of circumcision to the Galatians.

  28. Law, Promise and Paul’s Allegory

    We will once again explore the Letter to the Galatians, this time considering Paul’s allegory of the “two mothers,” Sarah and Hagar. We will see that Paul’s use of this allegory assigns a status of covenant heir to Gentiles-in-Christ.

  29. Jews, The Nations and Those in Between

    This lesson looks at the concept of social and national status in the Roman Empire, and how this concept affected the entry of Gentiles into the Jesus-movement, both from the standpoint of Israel and from the standpoint of the Roman Empire, which viewed such Gentiles as traitors. Gentiles-in-Christ, not Jews yet not fully Roman either, truly existed in an “in-between” status. Though they had the comfort of knowing that they were accepted by God as Gentiles, without changing their ethnic status, such a liminal place would have brought them social persecution. Not being Israelites yet refusing to offer sacrifices to the emperor brought their loyalty into question with their neighbors, business associates and government.

  30. One New Man and Identity Confusion

    Building on the past lesson, our final lecture addresses the “new man” hoped for by Apostle Paul: Jews and Gentiles remaining Jews and Gentiles, yet living as one household because Christ had broken down “the dividing wall” (Eph. 2:14-15). Gentiles are brought into covenant relationship with God and share in the promises to Israel through the self-offering of Christ. We will see how this original vision of oneness may be regained, even after centuries of Paul’s dream being neglected.


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